How to REALLY lose weight: What you need to know
7 Minute Read: Intuitive eating, mindfulness, weight loss, holistic medicine, integrative medicine, holistic health.
Another lifetime ago, as a 20-something living in Washington, DC, I worked as a self-employed Arabic translator.
I liked my job well enough. Arabic is a magnificent language, and being able to earn a living from translation felt like quite an accomplishment – one involving a Master’s from Georgetown followed by a year-long fellowship in Egypt.
Plus, I could make my own schedule and work from home in pajamas.
It was the perfect set-up in so many ways. And yet, something pivotal was missing.
Thing is, three other developments were unfolding around the same time:
I began experiencing health problems, the culmination of a decade’s worth of deficient eating and overexercising.
I discovered yoga and adopted a daily body-mind-spirit practice.
I started exploring holistic health and healing, hoping it’d help where allopathic medicine had failed.
My work as a translator, though comfortable enough, felt wholly disconnected from these three shifts, along with everything I most longed for. (I should probably add that I was translating dry, depressing news articles – not captivating, poetic literature.)
Sitting there in a very compartmentalized life, I wanted not only to heal my body, but also to integrate that path with how I earned a living and how I showed up for others.
So, I thought, I need to switch careers...and find the quickest, easiest, cheapest route to a job in holistic health.
(I had fairly recently completed 7 years of higher education at rigorous, expensive schools, and a late 20s career change was most definitely not in the plans.)
Thus began a somewhat scattered search for an easy solution. For something that would be the secret of my own healing...and my new, more integrated life.
I dabbled at the surface of a handful of modalities, exploring how it’d be to become a massage therapist, yoga instructor, or Ayurvedic herbalist. After all, I have an abundance of admiration for people in those roles. Why not follow suit? (Ideally, as fast as possible.)
Problem is, those roles were not a good fit for me or for what I truly wanted. As a result, I wasn’t taking any of them deeper – to a place where, regardless of modality, the real magic happens.
Instead, I remained at the surface, flitting from one thing to the next in the “Spiritual Supermarket of Holistic Healing.”
I learned a lot going about things this way and don’t regret my explorations. But deep learning was missing. And so was the "secret" for a more integrated, fulfilling life. Don’t worry. I eventually found that secret and am happy to share.
But first, let’s talk dieting.
These days, in my work as a holistic medicine doctor, I meet many people who have spent quite a bit of time, energy and money searching for a "secret" of their own.
Usually, they’ve been struggling for a long while and are understandably desperate for relief. The sort of relief they’re seeking varies:
Some want to lose weight and keep it off.
Some want to change an unhealthy, painful pattern around food and eating.
Some want to eat healthy in order to look and feel better but don’t know how (or know how, but can’t seem to follow through).
The pain of being stuck – and the deep longing for relief – has them flailing about for all kinds of fast, easy, next “solutions.”
Oftentimes, they try one thing one month and another the next, staying at the surface and wandering from aisle to aisle in the “Supermarket of Dieting + Weight Loss.”
I get this. When you’ve already spent so much time, money, effort, energy, and pain on a process – and when there are other important aspects of life also demanding attention – it’s really hard to not want the quickest route to someplace better.
(Kind of like me in my 20s, seeking a fast-tracked path to personal healing and a more integrated life.)
This is a difficult place to be. And what makes it especially painful is that it will never play out any differently.
The quick, surface solution is NEVER going to get you to your desired destination.
Well then, what?
When I finally faced what I had to do to get where I wanted to be, I didn’t like the answer. I thought it’d be a long road that would take lots of time and an abundance of effort.
I was right.
My 5-year Doctor of Oriental Medicine training was one of the most challenging things I’d ever done.
I chose a particularly tough program – one that still taught Chinese and did things “old school” rather than teaching to North American licensing exams (though I had to pass those too). One that required me to learn hundreds of acupuncture points and even more herbs and formulas...along with how to artfully, skillfully use those to make people well.
(Going back to school full-time in my early 30s wasn’t such a walk in the park either.)
It was not the fast track to a career in holistic health. It was the most transformative, powerful thing I've done in my whole life. And it led me deep in my learning, changing me from patient to practitioner.
As for eating?
Here’s the thing. Whether you’re seeking a more integrated, fulfilling life or a way out of a painful relationship with food, no pill, powder, diet or other “thing” is going to get you there.
Indeed, the real "secret" isn’t a thing at all. It’s a process. And a way of being. The heart of this process is going deep and learning to stay.
When it comes to diet, part of this is about getting really curious about how food’s more than just food and eating’s more than just eating. It’s about getting really curious about your patterns – and how they go beyond what’s on your plate.
But even that, alone, isn’t the secret. The real thing comes from doing all that in a sustained, patient, mindful way.
Put differently, the REAL magic appears when you show up for the process...and stay there.
That last part – the staying – is key.
It’s also the number 1 determinant of whether people see real, sustained change in their relationship with food and eating (or keep jumping from one so-called solution to the next).
Without the capacity to stay – especially during the uncomfortable parts – you’ll always remain at the surface of things and will always end up back where you started, where the search begins again.
Don’t worry – it’s not all bad. Even if you’ve been searching, searching, searching...and jumping from one “solution” to the next, there’s some good in there worth naming and celebrating.
For one thing, you’ve been surveying the field. You’ve also been learning an awful lot about what won’t work (at least for you and at least in a lasting way).
What’s more, you’ve decided you are not okay with just staying put – hanging tight in a place that might be comfortable in its familiarity...yet isn’t truly fulfilling or allowing the most complete expression of who you are.
You have the desire and courage to ask: What else is possible?
All that’s really good stuff. To get where you want to be, you’ll just need to focus it a bit differently.
Why? Well, here’s the thing. If you’re going to exert all that time, energy and money, why not go deeper? Why not stay long enough to access the real secret. The real change.
That’s what I had to do to become a doctor and to reach the more integrated life and livelihood I was seeking.
Sure, such a path will be tough at times. But isn’t that better (and less exhausting) than skipping from one thing to the next for months, years, decades...without EVER getting where you want to go?
What’s more, by going deeper – and staying – you won’t be standing still (or moving backwards) even if you relapse. Here’s why (and what makes this secret the real deal):
Getting to know ourselves and our patterns is key to changing things – usually slowly, over time, with ups and downs along the way. It’s also what makes it impossible to ever be back where you started, or to ever be starting over from scratch.
Even if you fall off “the diet,” you can’t erase places of expanded awareness. They are yours. And they mean you’ll never be the same as before.
They also, because of the way our brains work, cause things to shift (often with plenty of subtlety, patience and time). I’m talking big things. Eating patterns, for instance.
So how do you get the good stuff?
You know, it’s big work. And whether you go it alone or get support, it’s a long game. When I work with clients, this sort of work unfolds over months or even years. But it’s worth it, because it creates true, lasting movement toward where they long to be.
For now, as a bite-sized place of practice, I encourage you to try this:
Over the next week, whenever you feel pulled to eat something you don’t truly want, pause.
Don’t DO anything. Just stay. Resting in that pull. Resting in that sensation.
Say to yourself, as you wait there,
"Staying with sensation, letting go of stories."
Then say it again. And again.
Notice what’s there, in that place of staying. Notice what your body is sensing and feeling. No stories, just sensation.
See what comes up and, whatever comes up, still stay. Do the deeper work.
This work, done with gentleness and persistence, is the real secret of sustained weight loss...and change.
I’d love to hear your experiences moving from surface “solutions” toward something deeper. Experiences with learning to stay...and stay a little longer...and a little longer still. What emerged? What changed?